© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Bringing you a new perspective on Ohio sports every Wednesday morning.

Kent State women, Akron men punch their tickets to March Madness

The Kent State women's basketball team after winning the 2024 MAC Tournament.
Kent State Athletics
The Kent State University women's basketball team beat Ball State in the MAC Tournament finals to earn a bid to their first NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament since 2002.

Northeast Ohio is well-represented at the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments, which begin this week. The University of Akron men’s team beat rival Kent State University in the Mid-American Conference Tournament finals to get their March Madness bid, while the Kent State women’s team is going for the first time in 22 years.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto says Kent State has been building its women’s program which finally turned a corner under coach Todd Starkey, whose been at the helm since 2016.

The Kent State women beat Ball State in the MAC Tournament finals for their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“Led by Katie Shumate, who's basically been there for four years, she's a star player. They’re an under-the-radar program here that a lot of people haven’t noticed how well they have done, including me. I have to admit, I missed it too,” Pluto said.

No. 15 seed Kent will travel to South Bend, Indiana to face the No. 2 seed Notre Dame in the Albany 1 Regional on Saturday at 2:15 p.m.

On the men’s side, Akron pulled out a win over rival Kent State in the MAC Tournament finals to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.

Pluto said he’s enjoyed watching Akron’s 6’-7’’ senior forward Enrique Freeman

“He is from St. Martin De Porres High School on the east side of Cleveland, which is a place where you go to school half the day and then you have different internships and things. So, he went to Akron on a scholarship – an academic scholarship,” Pluto said.

Pluto said after Freeman’s first year at Akron, his mother encouraged him to try out for the basketball team.

“So, he makes the team as a walk on. And here we are four years later, the MAC regular season Player of the Year, the MAC Conference Tournament Player of the Year (and) going to the NCAA tournament. And in the spring, he gets his master's in business,” Pluto said.

No. 14 seed Akron plays No. 3 seed Creighton in the Midwest Region on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in Pittsburgh.

While John Groce will be coaching his Akron Zips in the tournament, Akron’s former legendary coach, Keith Dambrot, will be there, too, with his Duquesne Dukes.

Groce, who started his coaching career at Ohio University, was hired by Akron in 2017 after he was fired in Illinois. He replaced Dambrot, who left after 13 years to become head coach at Duquesne.

“And I thought, ‘Good luck with that.’ To me, Dambrot was the gold standard of MAC coaches. Well, it took a couple of years for John to get it going at Akron. But now, seven years later, this is his second trip to the NCAA tournament with the Zips,” Pluto said.

Meanwhile, Dambrot this season went on a historic run with Duquesne.

“They had to win four games in five days in the Atlantic 10 tournament, and Keith Dambrot, an Akron native, former Zips coach, got them to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 47 years,” Pluto said.

Dambrot announced this week he will retire following the conclusion of the team's run through the NCAA Tournament.

“He's 65 years old. His wife, Donna, is fighting breast cancer,” Pluto said.

No. 11 seed Duquesne plays No. 6 Brigham Young on Thursday at 12:40 p.m.

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production